Since the end of the February 17 revolution, Libyans and foreigners alike have been putting a lot of stock by the adage “everything will become clear after the elections”. Whether it’s foreign businesses wanting to set up shop in Libya, or Libyans waiting to reap the rewards of their hard-won revolution, the June elections have become a metaphorical watershed for the country’s future progress and stability. Although it won’t be out of its transitional phase until parliamentary elections in 2013, the upcoming elections will mark Libya’s first nationwide, democratic elections in over four decades and most hope that for good or for worse they will provide a lens through which to better understand and predict Libya’s post-conflict political landscape
However, with less than three weeks to go until the 200 members of the General National Congress are due to be voted in, it’s beginning to seem that these elections may not offer the focus and clarity much hoped for by those within Libya.
According to the High National Election Commission (HNEC), voter registration reached 80% of those eligible to vote which is no mean feat. The question is, now that Libyans have their voting cards who will they vote for, if indeed they vote? Candidate lists were posted on the HNEC ↑ website on 22 May and a two-day window set for concerns to be registered. However, the final list of approved candidates hasn’t yet been announced, so campaigning hasn’t begun in earnest. Assuming the election date isn’t postponed as many predict it will be, this gives Libyan citizens less than three weeks to decide who to vote for, if not less, depending on when lists are finalised.
In theory of course there is nothing to stop proactive voters from doing their homework about potential candidates. However the initial candidate lists posted well over a week ago on the HNEC website have not attracted much attention from the Libyan population. Most constituency lists have fewer than 1000 visits, and even the central Tripoli constituency had had little over 6000 visits at the time of writing. Given there are over 660,000 registered voters in Tripoli alone, that means the proportion of voters who have seriously begun considering who to vote for is worryingly low. What’s more, those who do make it as far as these lists are rewarded only with candidate names; there is no information on policy, vision or background. Indeed, having spoken directly to a number of prospective candidates, would-be member of congress are often unclear themselves about what it is they can offer the Libyan populace.
For most Libyans, whether educated or not, the entire concept of elections and the electoral process is completely new. In the short months since the end of the war, many have barely had time to get their heads around how voting actually works, let alone think about who to vote for. Despite the date for these elections having been set months ago, very little has been done to make the public aware of how the voting system will work, and what a voter is expected to do. When asked whether they will vote, many Libyans I’ve spoken to say no, because they don’t know who to vote for, and those that definitely want to vote often have no idea how they will decide.
Successful democratic elections are based on the premise that voters elect political candidates based on their suitability to complete the job at hand to that voter’s satisfaction. If voters are unable to make an informed decision, due to lack of information concerning the candidate, the process or the role those elected will play, then they will either not vote, or they will vote but not feel responsible or accountable for the vote they cast.
Libyans want to see stability and a break with the past, but inadequate elections could result in just the opposite. The HNEC has made many strides forward, but if something doesn’t change by June 19, the post-election political environment may very likely be more blurry than ever.
This article is part of Arab Awakening's This week's window into the Middle East.